Fifty years ago, Oakland was a thriving residential neighborhood and one of Pittsburgh’s most popular places to raise a family. Despite the dramatic shift to rentals and student housing, the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation thinks it can be that again.
The OPDC, in partnership with Lawrenceville-based, family-owned Senko Construction, recently completed a residential building project on South Oakland’s Frazier Street, constructing five new homes across six previously vacant lots. Four of the homes were sold before construction was complete and all five are now owner-occupied. The project cost approximately $1.1 million.
“Our goal is improving the quality of the neighborhood and increasing home ownership,” says OPDC Assistant Director Elly Fisher. “The perception is that Oakland has no long-term residents, but there are 20,000 residents in Oakland. A lot of those are homeowners and a growing number are young homeowners.”
The Frazier Street residential project marks the debut of a new development model for OPDC. During a similar project in 2008, the community organization acted as its own developer, rehabbing six properties acquired through city treasurer’s sales. This time, it chose to send out a request for proposals and then sell the land to Senko, which designed and built the homes.
Of the project’s five new homes on the street, three were purchased by people who grew up in Oakland and wanted to return to the neighborhood, including one of the Senko brothers. In addition to the five homes, the project saw the sixth lot converted into a community garden which OPDC calls Frazier Farms.
According to Fisher, Oakland — especially south of the Boulevard of the Allies — has a lot to offer young homeowners.
“Chances are it’s going to be close to where you’re working,” she says. “You’ve got phenomenal transportation access, second only to Downtown. You’re really close to the parkway and Schenley Park is your back yard. Oakland’s one of those quiet neighborhoods that people don’t think of because they think it’s all students.”
In addition to constructing new housing and getting delinquent properties back on city tax rolls, OPDC manages affordable rental housing, a residential façade improvement program, a rehab-to-resale initiative and a program which helps provide home repair for elderly, low-income and veteran homeowners.